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In full swing! Newport Jazz Festival 2023

Scott Haas
In full swing! Newport Jazz Festival 2023
Lakecia Benjamin PHOTO: Elizabeth Leitzell

The 2023 Newport Jazz Festival takes place Friday through Sunday, Aug. 4–6, in Newport, Rhode Island. Now in its 69th year, this year’s lineup continues the tradition of showcasing well-established musicians and emerging talent.

As one of the world’s most prestigious music festivals, Newport has the prerogative to take chances. This means music that defies categorization, including the cadences and rhythms of hip-hop, rap and bounce. The musicians at Newport this year demonstrate once again that there is no canon of jazz, but rather that its elasticity as a form allows for sounds that defy expectations.

Each day will bring to the stage artists whose work is life-affirming. On Friday, performers include Kamasi Washington, Immanuel Wilkins, Big Freedia, the Dave Holland New Quartet, and Lakecia Benjamin and Phoenix.

“This will be my first time playing Newport as a bandleader,” Benjamin told the Banner. “What makes Newport different is its rich tradition, heritage and lineage. It’s historic! Super-charged, and every jazz-lover’s dream. I look forward to joining that history, celebrating with the audiences and creating a soul-charged field of joy.”

Saturday’s performers include Jon Batiste; Thundercat; Arooj Aftab, Vijay Iyer and Shahzad Ismaily playing as a trio; the Charles Lloyd New Quartet; the Orrin Evans Quintet; Keyon Harrold; and James Brandon Lewis.

“I will be playing with the JBL Trio featuring Josh Werner on electric bass and Chad Taylor on drums,” Lewis told the Banner. “We shall be playing stuff from my new album, ‘Eye of I,’ out now via Anti Records. I am truly honored to be playing this festival. All of my heroes have played it, from John Coltrane to Sonny Rollins to Ornette Coleman.”

Orrin Evans PHOTO: Christopher Kayfield

Evans told the Banner, “Playing the Newport Jazz Festival as a bandleader is an awesome part of a journey I never want to end. Every opportunity encourages me to keep on keeping on. Playing in front of an educated audience like those at the Newport Festival is inspiring. Listening to bands, enjoying the weather, and fellowshipping with the musical community is great for spending an August weekend. I can’t wait to be a part of the musical offerings!”

The festival closers on Sunday include Samara Joy; Diana Krall; Cautious Clay; Marcus Miller; Somi; the Bill Charlap Trio; The Moodswing Reunion Band (Joshua Redmond, Brian Blade, Brad Mehldau, and Christian McBride); and Herbie Hancock. Now in his 83rd year, Hancock brings to the stage deep and numerous iterations of musicality that continue to influence artists from hip-hop to harmony.   

Performers with ties to Boston will be at the festival, thanks to talent linked to the Berklee College of Music. Performing with Dave Holland will be Kris Davis, pianist and composer, and associate program director of creative development at the college’s Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice; Jaleel Shaw, who graduated from Berklee in 2000; and, Arooj Aftab, a 2010 Berklee graduate. Diana Krall is also a graduate (1983); and, Herbie Hancock received an honorary doctorate from the school in 1986. 

Numerous Grammy Award-winners will take to the stage. One highlight is Samara Joy, who won this year for Best New Jazz Vocal Album and Best New Artist.    

Newport Jazz was the first annual jazz festival to take place in the United States. There was no festival in 2020 because of the pandemic, and in 2021 it was abbreviated. Founded by Louis and Elaine Lorillard, it had George Wein, founder of the famed Sto-ryville jazz club in Boston, as its artistic director for decades. This year brings composer and bassist Christian McBride forward as the artistic director, who has added perform-ers who embody the richness of the most contemporary sounds in music today.

Tickets for Friday may still be available, and while Saturday and Sunday are officially sold out, maybe last-minute seekers will get lucky through a ticket agency.